Archive | January, 2010

ACLU of Wisconsin Applauds the Passage of the Healthy Youth Act

29 Jan

The ACLU of Wisconsin applauds the passage of the Healthy Youth Act, the legislation that will raise state standards for public school human growth and development instruction. The Healthy Youth Act will give Wisconsin teens the tools they need to make healthy and responsible life decisions by providing comprehensive sexuality education that is age appropriate and medically accurate.

“Our state legislators looked at the facts about current teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates in Wisconsin and took action in support of educating students,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh. “Armed with the facts about reproduction and how to protect themselves from risk, the Healthy Youth Act will help young people make healthier choices.”

The Healthy Youth Act will better honor equal protection, free speech and freedom of religion in our public schools. Students have the right to ask their teachers questions about reproduction and teachers should be able to answer them with age appropriate facts. Human growth and development curriculum on relationships and reproduction should recognize equality in gender and sexual orientation. Our schools should also respect religious diversity and this legislation ensures that curriculum will not promote a bias against religion. All parents will have the right to inspect teaching materials at any time and will continue to be able to take their children out of portions of the curriculum with which they disagree.

Comprehensive sexuality education enjoys a broad base of support including major medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society of Adolescent Medicine, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and the Institute of Medicine. Comprehensive sex education is also supported by major educational organizations including the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the National School Boards Association. More than 85 percent of Americans support school-based sexuality education programs that teach students how to use and where to get contraceptives.

The ACLU of Wisconsin has approximately 8,000 members who support its efforts to defend the civil liberties and civil rights of all Wisconsin residents. For more on the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today and help us fight for civil liberties in Wisconsin.

Healthy Youth Act Passes the State Senate on Party-Line Vote

28 Jan

The Healthy Youth Act has passed the state Senate! Raising the state standards on human growth and development curriculum to be more comprehensive and fact-based is one step closer to law in Wisconsin.

On an 18 to 15 party-line vote, the Senate passed a bill that is very similar to the Assembly version. A unanimous amendment added language that would teach students about statutory rape laws and sex offenses. The bill will go back to the Assembly for a vote and then on to the Governor to sign.

The Healthy Youth Alliance, a coalition of individuals and organizations including the ACLU of Wisconsin, encourages voters to contact their Senators to comment on how they voted.

Ayes:
Carpenter, Coggs, Erpenbach, Hansen, Holperin, Jauch, Kreitlow, Lassa, Lehman, Miller, Plale, Risser, Robson, Sullivan, Taylor, Vinehout, Wirch

Nays:
Cowles, Darling, Ellis, Fitzgerald, Grothman, Harsdorf, Hopper, Kanavas, Kapanke, Kedzie, Lasee, Lazich, Leibham, Olsen, Schultz

The Healthy Youth Alliance maintains that the Healthy Youth Act is a commonsense measure to improve the health of young people throughout Wisconsin. The bill requires Wisconsin schools that choose to teach sex education provide students with comprehensive information about healthy relationships and preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs.

If schools teach sex education, it must include medically accurate and age-appropriate information about abstinence, birth control and barrier methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs. They must also teach teens about the life skills they need to say no to sex, to insist on contraception, and to communicate with parents and other trusted adults about these issues.

Thanks to all the ACLU members and supporters who called in with their support! Stay tuned to Cap City Liberty or to our Twitterfeed for more action alerts on civil liberties related issues in Wisconsin.

Today is Data Privacy Day – It’s About More Than Your Credit Card and Social Security Number

28 Jan

Today is Data Privacy Day and it is an opportunity to remind everybody that while we enjoy the ever-changing and evolving technologies available to us, from Facebook to medical record sharing, we should always know that our data and our information belongs to us. Any searching or sharing of our information needs our permission.

A year ago, Wisconsin Senator Erpenbach took the lead on authoring a resolution recognizing Data Privacy Day (PDF) in Wisconsin. We now have an official statement about what data privacy means to our state government. In this statement, and in the continued educational work of the ACLU of Wisconsin, privacy rights are more than protection against credit card fraud and identity theft: it is a practice of safety, protection and practices for everybody.

“Privacy rights need to be defended year-round,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “Today is a great day to recognize how we can protect ourselves against identity theft, encroaching surveillance and data insecurity.”

Nationally the ACLU has been in the center of courtrooms, legislative hearings and the media to show what is wrong with public video surveillance, why the Real ID program doesn’t secure our identities and should be overturned, and how government surveillance technology is outpacing legal restraints to abuses of power.

Read more about the work that the ACLU is doing nationally to support privacy rights. Aspects of privacy rights that we work on include biological technology privacy (our DNA is our own), consumer privacy (don’t spy on what I buy), Internet free speech and privacy (make those Facebook photos private!), medical privacy (sharing electronic records is great for doctors, but shouldn’t be searched by non-medics), students rights (with cell phones and their non-directory information), and workers’ privacy (from camera surveillance to lack of protection of personal records).

Action Alert: Call Your State Senator NOW and Say YES to the Healthy Youth Act!

27 Jan

Take action today in support of the Healthy Youth Act! The comprehensive sexuality education bill is scheduled to be voted on by the state Senate Thursday/tomorrow which is the last step before it is signed into law by the Governor!

Tweet this alert or put it in your Facebook status update: Call your Wisconsin State Senator NOW and say YES to the Healthy Youth Act http://bit.ly/9IQXBz

FAQ:
Where do I call?
The hotline to contact your state Senator is 1-800-362-9472. The hotline is open during regular business hours. You can also find your Senator’s contact information on-line.

Who is my state Senator?
Look up your Senate rep on-line with your address.

What do I say?
Tell your Senator that you support the Healthy Youth Act (SB 324), which would raise the state standards on human growth and development classes in our schools.
***Remember to leave your name and address so they know you are a constituent.
***You can read more about what the ACLU of Wisconsin said about the bill on our blog.

Why now?
By a 4 to 3 vote, the Senate Education Committee passed the Healthy Youth Act (AB 458 version) this morning. This excellent news means that the bill is scheduled for a full floor vote in the Senate tomorrow (Thursday, 1/28). The state Assembly already debated and passed their version – the Senate will take it up for debate and if passed is expected to be signed into law by Governor Doyle.

Read more on the increase in sexually transmitted disease and infection rates in Wisconsin, especially among teens.

Closing Guantánamo: A Deadline Missed

22 Jan

Today an important deadline was missed. One of the most shameful chapters of American history was to have been brought to a close with the shuttering of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. President Obama’s executive order to close the prison within a year (PDF), made on his second full day in office, was a bold act that signaled a strong commitment to breaking away from the unlawful policies of the Bush administration.

Sadly, the prison is still open. President Obama has recently reaffirmed his commitment to closing the facility, and that is encouraging. Yet, at the same time, it is worrisome that when Guantánamo finally does close, it appears that some of its most shameful policies will continue on U.S. soil, potentially reducing the closure to a symbolic gesture.

The administration has admittedly run into significant obstacles to closing the prison. Congress, awash in fear-mongering and claims of “Not in my backyard,” helped turn Guantánamo into a political football by blocking transfers of detainees cleared for release to the U.S. and launching a failed attempt to block the Justice Department from prosecuting detainees in federal court. But the administration is also to blame, as it has essentially discouraged other countries from accepting detainees by refusing to accept any into the U.S., fought the release of cleared detainees even up to the Supreme Court, and declared recently that it won’t release detainees to Yemen. The notion that Americans are made safer by continuing to detain prisoners who have been deemed appropriate for release simply because they come from certain countries will only serve to inflame those who believe that the U.S. has lost respect for the rule of law.

It is vital that the failure to meet the closure deadline does not give in to a sense of inertia or inevitability that the prison will be open for a long time to come. But it is also just as important that when Guantánamo is finally closed, it is closed right. That means that along with closing the facility, we must also put an end to its illegal policies like indefinite detention. Unfortunately, the latest indications from Washington don’t bode well.

Last month, the Obama administration announced its intention to purchase the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois for the purpose of holding some of the detainees currently remaining at Guantánamo. However, all indications are that some of the detainees who would be sent to the Thomson prison would be held under a policy, unchanged from the Bush administration, of indefinite detention without charge or trial. The Obama administration may have inherited the problems of Guantánamo from the Bush years, but by continuing the prison’s lawless policies on U.S. soil, it would take undisputed ownership of them.

In deciding how to handle detainees, the administration should conduct a thorough review of each case. Detainees against whom there is no credible evidence should be repatriated back to their home countries or resettled elsewhere where they won’t be tortured. Detainees against whom there is evidence of terrorist activity should be tried in federal courts. The American criminal justice system is more than capable of trying terrorism suspects while protecting both sensitive security evidence and fundamental rights. The federal courts have successfully prosecuted more than over 200 terrorism cases, including those of “Blind Sheik” Omar Abdel-Rahman for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussoui for conspiring in the 9/11 attacks.

No one disputes that the government has the right, under the laws of war, to detain prisoners captured on the battlefield until the end of hostilities. But the Bush and Obama administrations have defined their powers to do so far too broadly. They have used such authority to pick up and detain prisoners from around the globe who they deem engaged in the “war on terror,” essentially defining the “war zone” as the entire globe. Moreover, the “war on terror” will never come to a public, decisive end, so the duration of the war is essentially forever, opening up the possibility that America would detain individuals for the rest of their lives without giving them their due process rights. But even for those detainees at Guantánamo for whom the laws of war would ordinarily apply, the unique situation demands that they be charged or released after so many years of imprisonment without the protections of domestic and international law.

Guantánamo must close, and when it finally does, celebration will be in order. But the illegal policies embodied by the prison must disappear along with it. This moment in time presents a crucial opportunity to turn the page on the tragic policies of the past and firmly reclaim our moral authority. Continuing the failed policies of Guantánamo, on U.S. soil or elsewhere, would be an error of historic proportions.

Cross-posted from the ACLU’s Blog of Rights to Daily Kos and Huffington Post.

Please join the ACLU today and help us continue the fight for accountability in government and an end to abuses of power.

Racial Profiling and Knowing Your Rights Continues King’s Debate on Justice

19 Jan

The ACLU of Wisconsin celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a very successful Know Your Rights/Racial Profiling workshop in Racine. The workshop was part of Voces de la Frontera’s Martin Luther King Day Celebration at the Memorial Hall.

About 60 people of all ages learned from ACLU of Wisconsin staff and volunteers how to flex their rights and spot racial profiling. Importantly, attendees also learned how to take action if they are a victim or a witness of police discrimination. The workshop focused on how to handle police encounters such as being stopped on the street or in a car. Many of the participants are now eager to pass the knowledge of their rights onto the rest of their community.

We also debuted our new Know Your Rights bust cards – part of a initiative to make region-specific bust cards listing local community organizations that can assist with law enforcement concerns.

Other speakers helped to put current issues of racial profiling into context. Attendees were focused as Geraldine White, affiliated with the Racine Branch of the NAACP, spoke about her years with the civil rights organization, ths Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and some of the life-changing events that she witnessed there with Ralph Abernathy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Maggie Piery, longtime ACLU of Wisconsin volunteer and a student at UW-Parkside, shared her experiences speaking to law enforcement and community at the Office of Justice Assistance Traffic Stop Data – Racial Profiling listening sessions last month.

Contact us if you’d like to host a Know Your Rights/Racial Profiling workshop.

- Submitted by ACLU of Wisconsin intern, Sharon Cross

More Support for Medical Marijuana, Lobby Day on Jan. 20

19 Jan

The state legislature is back in session today and while they are busy doing their regular session work like renumbering acts and debating about campaign finance reform, Rep. Mark Pocan sent out an acknowledgement and a little reminder about how New Jersey quickly passed a reform bill to decriminalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

New Jersey was the 14th state to change their state law on medical marijuana when their Governor signed their bill last night. Wisconsin could be next if legislative leadership wasn’t afraid of the issue. But despite polling that shows that the people strongly support decriminalizing medical marijuana (for instance, the Sheboygan Press just published their supportive editorial today – about 8 in 10 are supportive according to the most recent ABC poll), Democratic leadership in the state Assembly and Senate must be listening to the criticisms of the bill from committee Republicans like Rep. Leah Vukmir and long-time marijuana opponents like Dr. Michael Miller from the Wisconsin Medical Society (who said at the hearing that people who want to legalize “reefer” shouldn’t “confuse compassion with medicine”) have said they aren’t enthusiastic to get this bill to the floor for a vote.

People who support the decriminalization of cannabis for medical purposes will be gathering at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Wednesday, January 20th to lobby their legislators on the topic. The event will start at noon on the second floor rotunda for a memorial tribute for activist Mary Powers who worked to legalize this relatively cheap and effective medicine for her illness until the day she died. Members of Is My Medicine Legal Yet will be asking legislators to support AB 554 and SB 368, the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act either in person or via telephone and are asking people to call in statewide at (800) 362-9472 (Who Are My Legislators?)

Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote? Yes Says Conservative Waukesha Blogger

15 Jan

Reposted from the Wigderson Library & Pub blog and published on January 14, 2010 in the Waukesha Freeman opinion page. Wigderson has been maintaining his conservative blog on local and state politics since 2004 and has been a guest commentator on greater Milwaukee radio and television shows.

Should felons be allowed to vote?
We’re in another election cycle, and I’m in training. I am asking everyone I know about the candidates, talking to the professionals, reading the Web sites, and getting antsy waiting for the first campaign finance reports. It is a fun time to be a political writer.

Unfortunately, for far too many of us, elections are just another day on the calendar. Worse, they are just days that remind them that while society pretends these people should be among us, they are really secondclass citizens.

Over 42,000 Wisconsinites will not be allowed to vote this spring. They are not illegal aliens. They are not underage. They are not in prison.

They are people who were convicted of felonies, but are now free. If, as a condition of their release, they remain under the state’s supervision, such as probation or parole, they are not eligible to vote. They are free in most respects, but not in the most fundamental way.

In the state Legislature right now is a bill that would grant these freed felons the right to vote in Wisconsin, the same right in at least 18 other states. Supporters of the bill are trying to round up the necessary votes to win.

It should not be that difficult. After all, the Democrats are in control of both legislative chambers. But there are some Democrats who fear what their Republican opponents will do with this issue in October and November.

Some Republican legislators, too, are willing to give the idea a chance. But they have legitimate concerns about whether it is proper to allow felons to vote, even if they are not in state custody.

From a practical point of view, we need to ask ourselves if it’s really worth it to prosecute someone for doing what we tell the rest of our citizens is the responsible thing to do.

The state of Wisconsin spent $22 million on a voter database. Trying to match the list to the list of released felons ineligible to vote proved nearly impossible, with election officials resorting to unreliable paper lists to try to keep felons from voting.

If someone is actually caught, the case is then referred to the district attorney for prosecution. At a time when the state is cutting back on staff in district attorney offices, do we really want them to put this as a priority? Or would we rather have them spend more time prosecuting real criminals?

Yes, I can hear the critics already. “But it’s vote fraud. Of course the DAs should make it a priority.”

Is it really vote fraud? Fraud would imply an attempt to deceive for personal gain. Our situation, that of a felon trying to be a responsible member of society by casting a ballot, to gain a stake in the direction of our society, is hardly fraud.

Fraud would be the alleged stuffing of the voter rolls by groups like ACORN. Fraud would be the cases where someone might vote two or three times. These are actions that diminish the legitimate votes and harm democracy.

Asking a felon to vote does not diminish legitimate votes. Asking someone who is no longer incarcerated by the state to vote does not harm democracy. Asking a felon to vote only makes that person a better, more responsible citizen.

We know that in those states where we can measure the progress of felons that do vote they are half as likely to re-offend. We can argue the cause and effect, but there is a relationship, and we would be fools not to recognize it and take advantage.

Democrats in the legislature are debating whether they have the votes to pass the voting rights bill. Admittedly, the timing is terrible, as the first prisoners are coming out now under the early release program. Nobody wants to be seen as soft on crime.

However, it appears that they are close to having enough support to put the bill on the legislative agenda. If that happens, Wisconsin Republicans should remember 14 Republican governors have already allowed this change in their states. Republicans can support the change in the law here, too.

James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.

Stand Up For Women’s Rights in Health Care Reform

14 Jan

Negotiations on the final health care bill pick up speed this week. As you may know, anti-choice forces in Congress have used this legislation as a vehicle for advancing their agenda.

We must make sure that the final bill will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Tell Sen. Russ Feingold, Sen. Herb Kohl and your state legislator in the House to protect women’s access to abortion in health care reform.

Health care reform should improve people’s lives. That’s why we have to make the most of our last opportunity to insist that health care reform should improve women’s health and lives — not interfere in their ability to get the health care they need.

Representative Bart Stupak and other architects of the severe restrictions on women’s health in both the House and Senate bills are campaigning hard, threatening to derail health care legislation altogether if anyone tampers with the severe restrictions they forced into both bills. Even our allies in Congress are feeling pressure. That’s why it’s so urgent that you take action today.

Both bills stigmatize abortion coverage and ignore the reality that abortion services are basic health care for women.

Tell your members of Congress that Stupak-style restrictions must not be part of any final legislation that goes to President Obama’s desk.

Anti-choice forces are working round-the-clock to keep severe abortion restrictions in the health care bill. We have to work just as hard to get those restrictions out.

Negotiations on a final bill are happening now. Please act immediately to insist on health reforms that will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Thank you for standing with us.
Sincerely,
Vania Leveille
ACLU Legislative Counsel

Immigration Rights Rally in Madison – Jan. 19

14 Jan

FYI – Immigration rights rally announced:

“Yesterday We Dreamed, Today we Act: March in Support of CIR – ASAP and the DREAM Act” will be held on Tuesday, January 19th. This event is being organized by different high school and college student groups. The goal of the event is to support the recent immigration reform bill introduced by the Congressman Luis Gutierrez (CIR – ASAP) and the DREAM Act.

The schedule is as follows:

4:30pm – We will gather at the Library Mall (711 State St).
4:45pm – We start to march from the Library Mall to the Capitol.
5:30pm – There will be a press conference outside of the Capitol.
6:00pm – People will start moving to the Humanities building
6:30pm-8:00pm – There will be a celebration party with music, food in Room 3650 of the Humanities building (432 East Campus Mall)

The Madison Student Coalition

Race-Based Mascots Ban Gets State Senate Hearing

13 Jan

The Wisconsin Senate Education Committee is about to start their hearing today on a bill that would improve the discrimination complaint process communities can have to challenge the use of race-based mascots. The ACLU of Wisconsin will be there to submit testimony on why we oppose the use of race-based logos, mascots and nicknames in public schools. We will also be tweeting live from the hearing: follow the updates at ACLUMadison on Twitter.com.

We’ve blogged before about the race-based mascot bill when it got a hearing in the state Assembly committee last year. Nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students. However, the use of discriminatory mascots should be challenged.
The ACLU of Wisconsin points out that:

1. All public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

2. There should be a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. As the use of race-based mascots is government speech (not individual speech), the First Amendment does not apply. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

3. Having schools with mascots that are not based in racial or ethnic stereotypes will not only end this particular discriminatory practice, but will be a positive step toward equality and an embrace of good sportsmanship, respect for others and fair play.

For these reasons the ACLU of Wisconsin supports SB 25 on race-based nicknames, mascots and logos and encourages the Senate Education Committee to support this bill. Ending the use of race-based mascots won’t end all discrimination in our public schools, but it is an important step forward.

You can read the bill online (SB 25).

Madisonians Fast for Witness Against Torture – Will Obama Really Close Gitmo?

12 Jan

Yesterday, some Madison peace activists gathered to recognize the anniversary of the start of detentions of alleged terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay. Some of these activists are fasting to bring attention to the lack of progress President Obama and Congress have made in closing Gitmo. Even if you aren’t fasting, you can take action on this issue today.

For why she is choosing to fast, Janet Parker explains:

I am taking part in the Witness Against Torture fast this week to focus attention on our government’s policies of illegal detention, torture, outsourcing of torture, and drone killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to call for a change in these policies. Our fast to resist the crimes and abuses of the “War on Terror” began yesterday, January 11, the date eight years ago that Guantánamo was first used to detain prisoners illegally and indefinitely.

The fast will continue until January 22, the day in 2009 when President Obama announced that he would close Guantánamo within a year. That year is almost over, and there are still more than 200 men being held at Guantánamo, many of whom have been cleared of any crime. By international law, these men should never have been held without charge, nor should they have been tortured. We call on the president to make good on his promise of last January to close Guantánamo, to release those men that have already been cleared, and to process other prisoners through fair trials and sentencing under US and international law.

The disgraces of the U.S.’s “War on Terror” include outsourcing torture by sending prisoners to “black sites” around the world where they can be held and tortured out of the public eye. This attempt to sweep torture under the rug by moving it to other nations does not reduce our government’s culpability, nor does it correct or undo the travesties that have unfolded on US-controlled soil at Guantánamo. And citizens who know that torture is wrong should not be silenced by this tactic of outsourcing. We need to continue to be vigilant in defense of prisoners and others harmed by the wars our government is waging in our names and with our tax money.

My fasting this week is one way that I choose to speak out against my government’s illegal and tremendously damaging violent actions, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Guantánamo, Iraq, and here within our country. If readers would like to join the fast, please read more at www.witnesstorture.org and contact us locally at Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, www.wnpj.org 608- 250-9240. You can also read my fellow faster Bonnie Block’s perspective that she shared with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice blog.

Janet Parker
Madison, Wisconsin

You can read Janet’s full statement on the Capitol Times website.


For a good summary of where we are after eight years, check out Truthout‘s fair criticism of Obama’s stalling and “guilt by nationality.” The ACLU posted their “eight years and counting” blog yesterday which includes this video “Justice Denied: Voices From Guantanamo” in which former detainees tell their stories of being captured and sent to Gitmo without trial.

Tell President Obama during this Gitmo anniversary week that action needs to be taken to close Guantanamo and end indefinite detention now.